Why the Left “Hates” Kerry and What It Means for ’08


Diane at the Mass blog ToughEnough isn’t. She’s taking John Kerry’s recent withdrawl from the 2008 campaign pretty hard. She says she’s “in mourning” and that it was “a painful day”. Coming from a hard-core Kerry partisan, such feelings are certainly understandable, but frankly, the rest of us are heaving long sighs of relief. Diane doesn’t get it.

The venom that’s poured out of the left and the right towards Kerry in the past few days have convinced me that he made the right decision. It’s been staggering, the amount of bile still held in reserve for him. Only imagine if he’d announced he was running. Someday I hope to nail down for myself the source of all the fury this one man evokes.

Maybe I can help clear up some of your confusion, Diane. I don’t suppose the hatred of Kerry by the Right is what’s bothering you – the answers to that are obvious enough – so I’ll concentrate on the left.

1. The 2004 Campaign

Kerry’s 2004 campaign was a bitter disappointment to a lot of us. Given the amount and the vitriolic nature of the opposition, he seemed to take forever to answer his critics, often not answering them at all. That may be “the High Road” but you don’t go into a war with a vicious attack dog like Karl Rove and then pretend to be above it all, not if your concern is the country rather than your own career.

Some of us knew what was at stake, knew Bush for the dangerous wingnut he is, knew that he was a stealth candidate, hiding his true nature under the veneer of Rove’s hand-tailored “compassionate conservative” illusion and the totally false personna of a down-home Texas cowboy, an ordinary guy. We could also see that an inattentive, soporific public, dozing through what looked like a snoozer of a presidential race, wasn’t paying much attention and still didn’t know those things because the MSM wasn’t doing its job.

Kerry needed, desperately, to show some backbone. He needed to out Junior for what he was:

  • a chickenhawk who ran from the Viet Nam war, hiding in the Texas Air National Guard and then not even bothering to show up for duty. The Globe and Michael Moore had been bringing all that out during the primaries. All Kerry had to do was grab it and run with it. He refused.
  • an almost unbelievably incompetent “businessman” who had run two different oil companies into the ground. Poppy had to save his butt both times by getting his Carlyle Group clients to bail the Shrub out. The whole sad story had been made public when W was still the Governor of Texas by columnist Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose of the Texas Observer. Again, all Kerry had to do was grab it and run with it. He didn’t.
  • a hideous governor. Even granted that the Gov of Texas is powerless by statute, little more than a glorified ribbon-cutter at supermarket openings, Dubya wasn’t shy about making it clear where he actually stood. After all, Texas is a right-wing echo chamber and he had nothing like serious criticism to fear. It was an early version of the isolated “bubble” that’s become a cliche in recent years. He could say anything he wanted and safely ignore repercussions that would never come. And say it he did. As Ivins and Dubose documented in their book, Shrub, published almost a year before the 2000 election, Bush had some scary ideas (he was a virulent anti-environmentalist, a pro-business stooge, and an open admirer of Chile’s right-wing military dictator, Augusto Pinochet) and even scarier friends (Ralph Reed, head of the Christian Coalition; Jerry Falwell; Pat Robertson; the late Lt Gen Curtis “Nuke ‘Nam” Lemay; Rupert Murdoch; Joe Coors; John Malone; Richard Mellon Scaife; and many others of the same ilk). This was all vital information that gave the lie to the “compassionate conservative” and “MOR Methodist” image that Rove had been honing for five years. Kerry used none of it. NONE.

Again, given the high stakes, Kerry’s reluctance to engage Bush on ground favorable to him rather than to Bush baffled us. Why would he let a patent fraud like Junior get away with such blatant lying? Rove’s vile Swift Boat smear may have caught Kerry off-balance, but it was even more reason to strike back. Yet Kerry did NOTHING. Why? we asked ourselves. What in heaven’s name was he waiting for?

Maybe for the DLC to tell him it was OK.

2. The Democratic Leadership Council

The DLC has been running the Democratic Party since Clinton won in ’92. They were the ones who crafted Clinton’s moderate-Republican platform, they were the ones who convinced him to disembowel the welfare system and start removing the safety net, they were the ones who made pro-corporate policies front-and-center in the “new” Democratic Party, and thus they were the ones who taught Democrats to thumb their noses at their traditional base. Al From and Co are the architects of the Demo’s right turn after the Dukakis disaster, and they have only one major concern: developing policies that will attract corporate donations. They use their power – they hold most of the top positions in the party or heavily influence those who do – to make sure that Democratic candidates steer clear of taking stands on issues that might hurt the DLC’s ability to collect $$$.

They were the ones who destroyed Al Gore’s campaign in 2000 by insisting on “advisors” vetted by them. The campaign decisions of these DLC-approved “advisors” proved to be disastrous. Gore was ahead in the beginning and should have been way ahead by Sept. Instead, his numbers tanked due to the ineptitude of his DLC consultants, and it wasn’t until he dumped them that he began to make headway again. The election shouldn’t have been close enough for Jeb to steal in Florida. The only reason it was that close was that a whole summer’s worth of DLC-ordained campaigning had sent Gore’s approval rating into the toilet and he had to spend time and money climbing out of the hole they’d dug for him.

It was a hard lesson and Kerry should have learned it. He didn’t. He turned to many of the same people who had ruined Gore’s campaign to run his, and the results were predictable: timidity, confusion, garbled messaging. They never developed a coherent strategy against Bush, let alone Rove, and were on the defensive from Day One. The Swift Boat slime should have provided an opportunity to kick the Pubs in the nuts – most of the work to gather the information necessary was being done for the Kerry campaign by progressive bloggers (they were all over this at dKos in particular) and most powerfully, of course, by MoveOn(dot)org. All the campaign had to do – I’m getting as tired of writing this as you probably are of reading it, but it’s what happened – was pick up the info and run with it. They didn’t. They ignored the help that was coming from the left and continued to play “above the fray” – a sop to the corporate donors who were frightened of a right-wing backlash if Kerry attacked as he could have, and should have.

Kerry’s needed to be a no-holds-barred campaign, as Rove’s Swift Boat smear proved, but the DLC wasn’t having any and Kerry obeyed. Again, the 2004 election shouldn’t have been close enough to steal in Ohio, and the only reason it was that close was the inept handling of the campaign by the DLC. Bush, as we know now, was a lot weaker than his numbers looked. The war was already not going well, Iraq was devolving into confusion if not yet chaos, we knew that the whole Bush Gang had been lying for months to justify the invasion, and the nation’s approval of it was, if not yet waning, at a minimum on the fence. People were waiting for explanations, bold statements, clarity. They were waiting for those things, specifically, from Kerry. But Kerry had a problem. Which brings us to:

3. The Vote for the War

The core of the left’s dislike of Kerry can probably be found here. Many of us took that vote as a betrayal of both our work and our hope. There’s still a LOT of hard feeling about the Democrats who backed Bush’s war – Kerry’s not the only one. There are scads of us who may never forgive Hillary for her vote, either. But it was Kerry who was in the spotlight, and it was Kerry who couldn’t answer a simple, straightforward question until it was too late to do any good.

There’s no getting around it: he hemmed, he hawed, he tried to portray a non-position as “nuanced”, and he scuttled for cover like a beetle whenever the subject was raised, which it was. Again and again and again. For months this went on when all he had to say to defuse the slurs and turn them around was, “The Bush Administration gave us false information. They misled the Congress. They misled the people of the United States. They lied. I made the mistake of believing them. It’s not a mistake I will make again.” He did, finally, get around to saying about half of that but by the time he did, he had danced around so much that his statement had no force. The Right had successfully tagged him as a “flip-flopper” and was able to claim that this latest position was the mere poll-following of an ambitious politician who would say anything to get elected.

There are many of us who have a similar feeling for Kerry as the one we have for Ralph Nader: that he handed the election to Bush on a silver platter. We knew perfectly well that Bush was insane, that the people around him were reality-challenged fanatics, that the administration was corrupt to its core, and that the radical Republicans in the Congress were Bush sockpuppets. We knew that a Bush win meant more of the same only worse – a continued shredding of our rights, of the Constitution, of the social contract; the continuation of an illegal war with the frightening potential of destabilizing the entire region and bringing on WW III in the Middle East; a continuation of corporate control of the country; the continued selling-off of the govt to private interests; and on and on and on, one horrendous result after another. The stakes couldn’t have been higher, yet Kerry meekly allowed the DLC to destroy his campaign as they had destroyed Gore’s.

That’s why we can’t forgive him. He could have won. He should have won. The moves he should have made were obvious. The things he should have said were obvious. The country was waiting for him to do and say those very things.

But he didn’t. He didn’t do them, he didn’t say them, until it was too late. He gave the election, an election he should have won easily, to a monstrous joke of a candidate, a monstrous joke of a president. In doing that, he let us in for four more years of the chaos in Iraq, Republican corruption, and corporate theft of both the Treasury and our resources. Can you really not understand our anger?

I want to make it clear that I, personally, have no animosity whatever toward Kerry. I think he’s a terrific Senator and I’m glad to have him. I’ve voted for him in the past and will again. I watched the election and its mismanagement less in anger with him than sadness – my anger was then and is now directed primarily at the DLC and only secondarily at Kerry for listening to them.

So why have I just spent so much energy explaining what happened three years ago when Kerry isn’t even going to run this time?

The short answer is: the DLC. They’re still in charge. The two top-tier candidates are obedient children of the DLC. Hillary’s on the Board, for chrissake, and Obama is tied in, too – or wants to be. So is Edwards, although his ties are looser and he’s been known to break off on his own occasionally.

The point is that the Democrats seem to have learned absolutely NOTHING from the 2000 and 2004 election debacles. With the DLC remaining in command, what happened with Gore and Kerry could very well happen again. It is at their feet those defeats lie, and yet they’re still running the show. We could once again wind up sitting helplessly by in ’08, watching as a weak Republican candidate walks away with – or steals – a squeaker of an election the Democrats should have won by a landslide.

I don’t think the country would survive Sam Brownback.

Edited for the addition of two fresh links and a mention of MoveOn.org which I unaccountably left out of the original post. My profound apologies.

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5 responses to “Why the Left “Hates” Kerry and What It Means for ’08

  1. Thank you for taking the time to say what needs to be said. Myself, I’ve grown too impatient with those who refuse to do their own homework, to bother trying to enlighten them.

    The whole Kerry election made me ill. My anger and frustration was so intense that I felt I had to back off for my own mental and emotional health.

    I’m grateful for your strength and wisdom.

  2. Thanks, but frankly, I don’t think there’s all that much “wisdom” involved. It seemed perfectly obvious what was happening and why, and I was not the only one to see it and say so. Not by a long shot. The activist base was furious and the voting base was either puzzled or disappointed. There were voices raised against both the DLC and Kerry, and many, many pleadings of “Take the bastard on.” The DLC ignored everyone who wasn’t on its list of corporate donors – what they wanted is what the DLC did. If either Hillary or Obama is the candidate in ’08, they will do it again. If it’s Edwards, I don’t know. I like John, always have, but he’s only stood up to the From/Clinton Wing (Cillizza calls the DLC the “center”, but they’re center-right and more right than center) a few times and never for very long. I just don’t know.

    I wish Wes Clark would run (he hasn’t ruled it out but he can’t afford to wait as long as he did in ’04), or Howard Dean. Dean can’t, of course, but it would be sweet to see him energizing the base and getting credit as the one – the only one, I think – who called it early and called it right. He took a major hit for standing up then and he deserves an “I told you so” moment now.

  3. My frustration with all your tough talk, convinced that Kerry alone could have won over those not informed by the media. They had no idea of the seriousness, and why they were going to the polls.

    The candidate is supposed to be hopeful, yet critical. He was, but he couldn’t do it with just a handful. Frankly, almost as if many stood down, waiting for 2008. They saw the difficulty of getting the megaphone, and a fair media.

    Remember the fear, lack of facts, terror alerts, wartime, and those funny voting machines.

    I look here above, still, at the purity of Howard Dean. Someone who was all over the place with Iraq, until Joe Trippi got a hold of him. His primary fans refuse to remember the positions were the same, of both Kerry and Dean, just he didn’t have to vote.

    We thank Howard for eventual hard work on the campaign, and especially as DNC chair.

    The vote for leverage, it worked, and Bush promised the leadership of diplomacy, etc. Building his campaign, Kerry needed support of leadership. He has regretted that vote every day, I think, but it was not a vote for war.

    At the time, we needed a hook to get the inspectors in, and once the bi-partisan SFRC were able to take out language of a wider geography, harder to say no.

    A candidate can not be seen to trust Saddam’s claims more than a presidnt’s promise. Kerry never wanted war, and said so before the vote and every opportunity thereafter.

    Don’t assume if you didn’t hear words spoken on the trail, that they weren’t. You need to remember how Bush was better for the media business, so said Redstone of Viacom.

    Lastly, when media is running lies as 50/50 parity, 24/7, hard to counter direct hate mail and a $22 million dollar Swiftie smear campaign.

    I say all this. because we haven’t learned anything. Charisma won’t carry after a smear job, voting needs to be protected (and Kerry’s team prevented a lot), and we need to work very hard at a Democratic GOTV.

    Mostly, we can’t assume what works for us will play well in Peoria. Many need to hear our emotional point exactly how we feel it.

    Someone of Kerry’s proven rightousness on issues, integrity, should have been given more benefit of the doubt against the RW talking points. We don’t need to believe and repeat them.

    The progressives missed the boat on Kerry, and not every candidate is great in the beginning. He learns.

    I agree his team was promoting a generic Democrat, when he is a lot more special.

    Your words are tough, certain, but I’d appreciate a little respect for the challenge, and what we accomplished.

    Replacing an incumbent during wartime was never going to be a slam dunk, and coming from the branding of conservatives these years, moving the country our way is hard to do in one election.

    There were realities to who we were organizationally in 2004, what was known, blogger critics never admit.

    (I need a preview button.)

  4. My frustration with all your tough talk…

    Not all that tough. I heard a lot tougher during the campaign. And since. I was being kind. I think a lot of these people don’t give Kerry enough credit.

    Kerry alone could have won over those not informed by the media.

    a) He wasn’t alone. He had the whole DLC/Dem apparatus behind him. And b) nobody was asking him to do it himself. There were a lot of people trying to help. The DLC wasn’t interested. In fact, they often treated the base as if we were an annoyance they’d rather not have to deal with.

    The candidate is supposed to be hopeful, yet critical. He was, but he couldn’t do it with just a handful. Frankly, almost as if many stood down, waiting for 2008. They saw the difficulty of getting the megaphone, and a fair media.

    I’m not sure I understand what you’re trying for here. Who, exactly, do you think “stood down”?

    As for a “fair media”, there were – and are — a lot of us fighting them. MoveOn.org was doing journeyman work and the DLC heavies ran in the other direction – virtually disowned them. So who was it who “stood down”?

    Remember the fear, lack of facts, terror alerts, wartime, and those funny voting machines.

    I haven’t forgotten. As for “lack of facts”, that’s bullshit. The facts had been out for years. Did the media largely ignore them? Yes. But they were there to be picked up like rock candy had there been any will to do so.

    On the “funny voting machines”, yes I’m aware the election was stolen in Ohio. I’ve been writing about those machines since 2000. If you’re suggesting there wasn’t much Kerry could have done about them, I agree. There wasn’t.

    I look here above, still, at the purity of Howard Dean. Someone who was all over the place with Iraq, until Joe Trippi got a hold of him. His primary fans refuse to remember the positions were the same, of both Kerry and Dean, just he didn’t have to vote.

    That’s somewhat unfair. I live not far from the Vermont border and I know perfectly well that Dean was against the war long before he decided to run and before he hooked up with Trippi. Tho I certainly agree Trippi made him stronger, the fact remains that Dean’s position was already set. You know, the flip side of “he didn’t have to vote” is he was a small state gov and nobody had to listen. They didn’t until he was suddenly, out of nowhere, a candidate. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t saying the same things before.

    The vote for leverage, it worked, and Bush promised the leadership of diplomacy, etc. Building his campaign, Kerry needed support of leadership. He has regretted that vote every day, I think, but it was not a vote for war.

    Kerry’s a brilliant guy. If we knew it was a vote for war – and we did – why didn’t he? If we knew enough about Dubya’s background, the people he hung around with, the crazy shit he believed, not to trust him, why did Kerry? By the time that vote was taken, we knew everything Bush said about Saddam not letting inspectors into the country was a lie; we knew there probably weren’t any WMD’s (see Scott Ridder) and Condi and Cheney were lying about them; and we knew the planes were balsa wood. We even knew that Ahmad Chalabi was feeding Doug Feith information the CIA said wasn’t verified and probably wasn’t true. All that had been reported. It was obvious to us that Bush wasn’t going to negotiate, wasn’t interested in diplomacy. So why wasn’t it obvious to Kerry and the other Dems who voted for that resolution?

    There are facts to be faced here, and one of them is that when the Democratic Party should have stood up tall and screamed bloody murder, it sat down and shut up. Kerry wasn’t the architect, but he went along with it. Why? He’s certainly not lacking in courage. I was there the day he threw away his medals. I remember the speech he made in Congress. And emotions were running much higher then than they were in ’04. He took an enormous amount of shit for his stand, and he didn’t do it for any career. He did it because it was the right thing to do. Yet faced with a similar circumstance, he acted completely opposite to the way he acted then. Why?

    If he didn’t know damn well it was a vote for war, he should have. We knew it.

    Don’t assume if you didn’t hear words spoken on the trail, that they weren’t. You need to remember how Bush was better for the media business, so said Redstone of Viacom.

    That graf baffles me. I have no idea what you’re getting at. I know Sumner Redstone. He’s an idiot, a far-right whackjob, and the greediest man it’s ever been my extreme displeasure to meet. He’s also a thief. That’s how he got rich. I would expect him to say that even if it wasn’t true – and it isn’t. It’s nonsense. Britney Spears is better for the media than anybody. Should we elect her?

    If you mean better than Kerry because Kerry was dull, well, if the shoe fits…. Kerry can be a rousing speaker when he wants to be but he didn’t show much of it in ’04.

    Lastly, when media is running lies as 50/50 parity, 24/7, hard to counter direct hate mail and a $22 million dollar Swiftie smear campaign.

    That hardly excuses him from trying. Hitting back, hard, might have worked or it might not but we’ll never know because KERRY NEVER TRIED. As much material as there was, he might very well have put an enormous dent in Bush’s armor. Moore and MoveOn had shaken everybody up with the TANG story. There was a ring of truth in it. If he had put it together with Arbusto and Harken and that horrendous stadium scam, there’s a good chance people would have started being uncomfortable with Bush, started asking questions. They were beginning to do it when it was just Moore and MoveOn and dKos.

    Why didn’t he use all that material? Why didn’t he even try? Because the DLC didn’t want him to and the DLC is the Democratic Party to all intents and purposes.

    Mostly, we can’t assume what works for us will play well in Peoria. Many need to hear our emotional point exactly how we feel it.

    Fuck Peoria. That’s the DLC talking. Take a page out of Rove and worry about energizing your base instead of telling them to quiet down and stop being so angry and disruptive. He wasn’t running for president of the senior class. This was high stakes hardball, not a place for gentlemanly debate. The gloves needed to come OFF.

    Someone of Kerry’s proven rightousness on issues, integrity, should have been given more benefit of the doubt against the RW talking points. We don’t need to believe and repeat them.

    Again, I’m not sure what you’re talking about. What “RW talking points”? And “benefit of the doubt”? For what? You think this analysis of Kerry’s campaign comes from RW talking points? Come on. You can’t be that clueless. It comes from what I’ve heard from the left, what I’ve read coming from the left, and what I watched happening with my own eyes.

    Benefit of the doubt? What doubt? That he meant well? What’s that got to do with anything? He was trying to play basketball on a football field and IT DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY.

    The progressives missed the boat on Kerry…

    No. Kerry missed the boat on us.

    I agree his team was promoting a generic Democrat, when he is a lot more special.

    YES. Finally you’re getting it. He is, and we needed that special. We needed the Kerry who stood up against Nam and everything it meant, told the truth, straight from the heart, and said what everyone needed to hear.

    So where the hell was he? Buried under a ton of generic DLC “strategy” concerned about what people in Peoria might think.

    Your words are tough, certain…

    If you think I’m being “tough” on Kerry, you must have a very thin skin. Tough on the DLC, you bet your ass. That’s an incredibly dangerous group. Mark Gisleson today called them “the gravest threat to ‘big D’ Democrats and the Democratic party I know of.” And he’s right. But tough on Kerry? I was being nice.

    I’ve watched the man for 40 years. I admire him and a lot of the work he’s done (Iran/Contra, the S&L scandal, etc). In my opinion, he got hosed by the DLC. But in the final analysis, he was the candidate and he should have told them to take a flying leap and run his own shop. He didn’t, and that’s a goddam shame because the country never got to see the real Kerry, the Kerry I’ve been watching all this time, the Kerry with guts, determination, and brains. The one who doesn’t back down from a fight.

    I think his one real mistake was in not realizing that he had to win a fight against the Fraud Squad in his own party before he could win a fight against Bush. As far as I’m concerned that’s a forgivable mistake, but very few progressives feel that way.

    … but I’d appreciate a little respect for the challenge, and what we accomplished.

    Which would be what, exactly?

    …moving the country our way is hard to do in one election.

    No one said it would be easy. In fact, we said the opposite. So why didn’t the campaign use every weapon at its disposal? It’s hard to make excuses for that.

    There were realities to who we were organizationally in 2004, what was known, blogger critics never admit.

    Whether you like it or not, “reality” is precisely what I have been discussing. I know “who we were organizationally” and why. I think I’ve made that abundantly clear. If the DLC isn’t stopped, exactly the same mistakes will probably be made again because every campaign they run, those are the mistakes they make, the same ones, over and over and over. You want to prove to me you accomplished something? Show me how you hurt the DLC .

    (I need a preview button.)

    No kidding. It’s absurd. Even Haloscan has previews now. And Blogger has ID. Oh, well. At least WP’s anti-spam program (Akismet) is very good. Almost nothing makes it through.

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